We can teach children to value relaxation, quiet time, and sleep. Even children who don't have trouble sleeping need to know how to calm down, unwind from their day, and look forward to going to sleep.

Here are some tips to make bedtimes easier:

Figure out why. If your child is resisting going to bed, or says "I'm not tired," or has trouble falling or staying asleep, think about what might be the source of the problem.

Maybe your child is afraid of being alone or in the dark.

Have there been small life changes in your family recently, like schedule changes or visitors? Or big life changes, like illness, divorce, death in the family, or moving to a new city or neighborhood?

Maybe your child is too wound up and tense to relax for sleep.

Keep in mind that children have unique temperaments with different energy levels and different degrees of sensitivity to stimulation from their environment. Know your child's traits. Maybe your child truly needs more positive time and attention from a parent. Understanding the source of the problem helps you develop a strategy.

A firm time. Regardless of the source of the sleep problem, choose a consistent time - within a 15-minute range -- for your child to go to bed. Be respectful but firm in sticking to this rule. Don't allow yourself to get into an argument or long explanation about why the bedtime is this, instead of that.

Set the stage every night. Design a regular going-to-bed routine that includes comforting closeness between you and your child. Establish a sequence in which each activity follows the other in a similar order every night. Predictable routine gives children a feeling of security.

Calm activities. Slow down all activities at least an hour before bedtime. Of course, daily exercise and fresh air are important for good sleep, too, but not within the hour or two before bedtime.

Limit caffeinated drinks and chocolate. Be aware that caffeine-- including sodas, colas, and tea-- past mid-afternoon may keep your child awake at night.

A calm room. Try to create a calm space near your child's bed, without a lot of toys or distractions. Ideally, there would be no TV, computers or video games in the room. If they are in the room, turn them off well before bedtime.

Timer reminder. At least 20 to 30 minutes beforehand, remind your child of the approaching time to go to bed. You can then set a kitchen timer at, say 20 minutes, and let the ding signal "It's that time!"

Relaxation exercises. Begin your going-to-bed routine with a short breathing, stretching, or body relaxation exercise. Here's a quick breathing technique. It not only helps children sleep better, but also develops mental focus and calmness throughout the day:

o Balloon-Belly Breathing. Put one hand on your abdomen, also called your belly. Pretend your belly is a balloon. Breathe in slowly ... and feel your balloon-belly get bigger as it fills with air ... Now breathe out slowly ... and feel your balloon-belly get flatter as you let the air out. Repeat 3 to 4 times.

Offer some choices. Let kids pick the pajamas they'd like to wear. Let them pick the book or story they'd like to read or hear. Let them choose whether to brush their teeth before or after they dress for bed.

Read a story aloud. Or make up a story. Tell stories from your own life. Speak with a soothing, calm voice. Sit close or snuggle with your child especially during story time.

Say goodnight and leave the room -- maybe. Leave while your child is still awake. Of course, this varies from child to child. Let them know you're nearby, but avoid returning every time he calls out with a request. If your child doesn't want you to leave, remind her that you will have more time together the following day. But it's best to establish this between ages 4 - 6 months. If you're starting to establish this at a later age, when they are older, you might need to ease into this change more carefully and slowly - also checking on them at intervals.

Generally when children learn to fall asleep without a parent there, they are better able to sleep through the entire night or go back to sleep easily when they do wake up.

Parents, Relax Yourselves! When parents are stressed, tense or exhausted, children sometimes absorb their feelings. Our tensions and moods can be contagious to those close to us. Tune in to yourself often. If you're worked up and feeling stressed, impatient, or sleep-deprived yourself, it's difficult to model calmness and relaxed centeredness for your child.

Set aside relaxation time for yourself every day. Let your child see you make sleep and relaxation time a priority for yourself, too, so your child will value sleep and relaxation time.

© Jane Barnholdt 2011. All rights reserved.

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